Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The Interpretation of Cultures is a collection of essays spanning the fifteen years of Clifford Geertz’s career as a cultural anthropologist since he took his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1956. On the whole, the collection reveals a twofold purpose. The first, and perhaps less important, is to demonstrate the development of his ideas—ideas that grew by leaps and bounds out of his fieldwork in Bali and other developing nations. As a consequence, many of the essays contain richly detailed, even anecdotal accounts of day-to-day life. As Geertz puts it, “the majority of the essays are, in fact, empirical studies rather than theoretical disquisitions, for I grow uncomfortable when I get too far away from the immediacies of social life.”

While Geertz never does stray too far from the details of life, the essays nevertheless build toward a second, more important end: a “redefinition of culture.” All the essays, that is, “are basically concerned with pushing forward, instant case by instant case, a particular . . . view of what culture is, what role it plays in social life, and how it ought properly to be studied.” As a result, the book as a whole emerges “somewhat as a treatise—a treatise in cultural theory as developed through a series of concrete analyses.”

The Interpretation of Cultures is divided into five parts, and, as Geertz points out, the essays are arranged in a logical rather than a...

(The entire section is 485 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Brown, R.E. Review in Library Journal. XCVIII (August, 1973), p. 2324.

Dillon, Wilton S. Review in Teachers College Record. LXXVI (September, 1974), pp. 155-159.

Geertz, Clifford. Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology, 1983.

Goodenough, Ward H. “On Cultural Theory,” in Science. CLXXXVI (November 1, 1974), pp. 435-436.

Greene, Maxine. Review in Harvard Educational Review. XLIV (May, 1974), pp. 331-336.